After ride fell through, she's walking to Calif. Trek: A young Baltimore-born woman is attempting a solo hike across America, and making a lot of friends along the way.

July 09, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Sitting in her Charles Village apartment, Ingrid Krause can get up the nerve about once a week to punch in the cell phone number that is supposed to connect her with her daughter, hundreds of miles away. Usually, the call doesn't go through.

"When I can't get through to her, I think this time she really is dead," Ingrid Krause says.

But on the other end of the transmission, 22-year-old Nicole Krause says she is just having too much fun in places like Richwood, W.Va., and New Harmony, Ind., to remember to turn on her phone at the prescribed noon and 6 p.m. times.

Nicole, known as Niki, is about 700 miles into a solo walking journey across the country, a trip that had the simplest of beginnings -- her ride fell through.

A plan to drive with friends across the country following her May graduation from the University of Virginia with an English degree wasn't coming together. So Niki decided to reach San Francisco on foot.

"I still wanted to go, but I didn't have a car," she says, speaking over her cell phone from Indiana. "It suddenly hit that this is what I wanted to do."

Her mother didn't like the idea. "We tried to talk her out of it, but there was absolutely no stopping her," Mrs. Krause says. "She has always been very stubborn."

Her daughter says she was simply determined. "I have always been interested in seeing America. I had never been past Illinois," she says.

Carrying 40 pounds of camping essentials and self-protection devices, and walking about 17 miles a day, she's made it past Illinois.

She spent the Fourth of July in St. Louis. This week she was heading out of Jefferson City, Mo.

But the walking was getting to her.

Fearing a stretch of high humidity along the Missouri River will put her behind schedule, she planned to cover 100 miles in three days of bicycling to keep on schedule. Then it's back to foot travel. She anticipates she will reach San Francisco -- still 2,200 miles away -- in January.

A lonely beginning

She is having fun now, but the walk began as a lonely quest.

"I thought the hardest part [would] be the physical," says Krause, who says she has gotten used to the pain of blisters that never seem to heal.

"But I missed my family and friends. I was lonely, and I didn't have a place to stay."

But along the way, the trip has picked up a kind of momentum. She has found herself welcomed by families, showered with gifts, even given the key to a city. Small-town communities set up an informal network, people phoning ahead to find her places to stay.

"People would see me walking around with the huge backpack, and ask me what I was doing." she explains. "As soon as I told them, they wanted to get involved."

Krause -- who was born in the Belair-Edison neighborhood and raised in Fairfax, Va. -- was finding a home in small towns across America.

Richwood, W.Va., Mayor Jeromy Rose -- who gave Krause a key to the city -- says she was a hit with the 2,800 residents when she arrived May 26.

'Rooting for her'

"We were honored that the community was part of the trip," Rose said. "I think [they] fell in love with her. Everyone is rooting for her still."

Before Krause knew it, these communities were uniting to help her. She ran across people like Bonnie Burks Gray in Shelbyville, Ky., who started finding homes for her.

"I met her the way she's meeting people now through a friend of a friend of a friend of friend," Gray says.

Gray, who works for a nationwide community newspaper company, began calling people she knew along Krause's route and asking them to put her up for the night.

"I think there are enough of us out there who want to take care of each other," she says.

Help keeps her going

Krause says the help she has received from strangers has kept her going.

"Every time I get tired, I just think of trying to get to the next house," she says. At times, she says she keeps on going "for the people who are living vicariously through me."

Krause's mother said she is very grateful for the families that are putting her daughter up.

"It says something about our country," she said. "I am still worried sick about her, but it is a little easier now."

Niki Krause wakes up every day not knowing what to expect. One recent day, she arrived in New Harmony, Ind., and found that word of her arrival had spread.

She was greeted by a large crowd, met a host family and enjoyed a large meal. She even got a dip in the whirlpool at the town's hotel.

Introduced to heiress

The next day she met the town celebrity, oil heiress Jane Owen, who gave her a straw hat. Then she headed for Mount Vernon, Ill.

Gifts of all sort -- T-shirts, caps, pens, even a compact-disc player -- have poured in during the trip. They are mailed back to her mother to keep her load light.

Krause has kept a journal which she plans to turn into a book. It's TTC available on her Web site -- www.smartsubmit.com/niki -- which she updates at public libraries. She says the theme is already clear.

"It has turned into an acknowledgment of all the nice people there are," she said.

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